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The Baby Cradle

by Miranda Aitken 8 months ago in fiction

By Miranda Aitken

Creator of image: Simone Ziaziaris

Georgia wakes up in the middle of the night. A cloud of smoke wafts in through the open window, ominously. As Georgia checks to see where it’s coming from, she hears the sounds of the neighbours singing songs and dancing on tables, their fireplace roaring. She stretches her body across the bed to close the window, comforted now. Her lumpy pregnant belly presses into her husband, Robert’s sleepy face. He wakes a little and rolls over. “Hello… What up?” he says in a husky voice, “Nothing”, says Georgia. “There was smoke. It’s the neighbours. It’s okay baby, go back to sleep.” He groans: “Bloody neighbours.”

It’s morning now and Robert is getting dressed for work in a suit and tie. “You’re looking dapper”, exclaims Georgia. Robert hardly responds, in a rush, “We have meetings with the financiers today. I have to look my best.” “I’ll miss you”, says Georgia, leaning in. “A kiss?” Robert considers this for a moment, desperate to get away, distracted by some heavy force weighing down on his mind. He does however advance towards her, kissing her sweetly, as Georgia now satisfied, smiles. He softly touches her pregnant belly. “I’ll see you soon” he says. Georgia smiles, “see you soon.”

1 month later…

Georgia tosses and turns in the bed, trying to get an hour’s more sleep. She looks at the roof of the bedroom, dilapidated, paint peeling. She closes her eyes again. Robert’s things are packed in boxes, haunting her. The alarm rings as Georgia crawls out of bed, most unwillingly. She places her favourite pair of fluffy slippers from Target on her feet and walks downstairs to brew herself a cup of herbal tea. She dips the tea bag in a cup of boiling water and sits again, idly staring at her now heavily pregnant belly. She looks out the front window at the garden, with grass overgrown, needing mowing. She peers at her phone’s empty screen. Robert hasn’t called. It’s summertime, it’s hot outside.

After sitting idly feeling empty and routinely sorry for herself, Georgia decides to go for a walk. She slips on her best hiking shoes and ventures outdoors in her pyjamas. She would usually be embarrassed by the thought of wandering around in pyjamas in public, but she decides they look like a tracksuit. No one will notice. She smooths her hair backwards into a ponytail in an attempt to appear together, whilst seeing how dishevelled she looks in the hall mirror. She can feel her standards slipping. Her worst nightmare is to be a single mother.

The air is balmy. It sinks into her skin, leeching sweat. As she exits the gate to her house, she notices a small envelope emerging from the grass on the pathway. She picks it up and examines it. It’s addressed to no one. She looks around. Perhaps someone has dropped it. Its contents are thick and can hardly be contained in the envelope. She pens at it, prying its sticky casing open. A strange wintry feeling overwhelms her. She shrugs it off in an act of defiance.

It has been a month since Robert went missing. Police investigations had just about stopped, though the police had assured Georgia they would continue the search. She felt anguish at the process of locating her husband. She believed that everyone only cared for a fleeting moment, whilst she was the prized hen of the media, under constant scrutiny. A pregnant woman expecting her first child, left alone by the disappearance of her husband. Police were praised for their efforts in the investigation and she was looked upon with a mix of pity and distant care by the sympathetic public. Soon, no one would mention her husband’s disappearance and things would go back to normal. But not for Georgia. Her face had been plastered all over the news, alongside Robert’s. Georgia had felt a strange sense of connection to him when she saw their faces side by side in the local newspaper. She missed him. Although she was irked by the naked visibility of herself and her now uncertain life, she found comfort in imagining their closeness. What she wanted was her husband back.

Georgia opens the envelope to find a wad of cash inside. She looks around again, surprised. No one is there, the town still sleepy from the Saturday night before. She counts the money to exactly $20,000. She stands there, stunned. She knows she needs the money. What are the chances that a sum like that could show up just outside her doorstep? She wanders at it. She didn’t really believe in signs like other people do and preferred to use logic to make decisions about why things happen the way they do. It would be ridiculous to think she deserved some stranger’s money just because it showed up near her home. Someone probably dropped it by accident, and as such, it would be wrong to keep it. She consulted her morality further, stepping into the owner’s shoes. What would I do if I dropped $20,000 on the footpath? Well, she’d want it back, thought Georgia. And she’d hope to God – any God – that someone might turn it in.

Just then, Georgia spies a black notebook protruding out of the snow, near where the envelope was found. How she hadn’t spotted it before she did not know. She picks it up and examines its rough edges. She flicks through the empty pages of the notebook, which fall like leaves as she turns them. Although the pages are mostly empty, one page is different. In the centre is a set of coordinates: 25°S 147°E. How strange, thinks Georgia.

She tucks the notebook into her jacket pocket, alongside the envelope of cash and continues her walk (now in the direction of town). Georgia thinks she will hand in the envelope of cash to the police, as she values the thought of being a Good Samaritan. But for some reason, she convinces herself that the mysterious little black notebook would be of no value to them. She wanted to know what lay there at the coordinates. Could it be buried treasure? A gargantuan waterfall? Her husband? The notebook pulled her in – in a way that the money didn’t. It called to her. The sight of the coordinates brought her back to her school days where she dreamed of being an adventurer and would set out on hikes with her friends. She needed something to look forward to. She needed that escape. She deserved to keep it, she convinced herself. How easy it is to convince oneself of the need for something, beyond logic, when self-interest is involved.

Georgia makes her way to the police station decidedly. She opens the large swinging door to the station and is greeted by the male receptionist, Mark reminding Georgia of her loss. “No luck, sorry Mrs Cosik” “It’s fine”, says Georgia. “I’m actually here to declare an envelope of money I found on the pathway outside my home” She hands it over to the receptionist. “There’s $20,000 in here.” “You counted?” “Yes.” “One moment…” Mark leaves into a back room where he talks with police. Georgia sits patiently in the waiting bay, considering whether or not she should hand over the notebook as well. Perhaps they could help her locate what lies at the coordinates. She knows if she hands over the notebook she would likely never find out due to confidentiality reasons. She decides again to keep it.

Mark emerges and asks Georgia what she saw when she picked up the envelope of cash. He asks her whether there was anyone else around. He asks her exactly where she found it. She recites the information, leaving out only the details of the black notebook. “Thank you so much, we will begin investigations into the owner immediately” he says. Georgia leaves, feeling a pang of guilt setting across her stomach, realising she had just lied to police. Was this the right thing to do? What if someone had left out some valuable detail about her husband’s disappearance? Would it make a difference? She had to find out what exists at those coordinates.

If she could, she would have run home, but her pregnant belly wouldn’t permit it. She panted as she walked, exhausted by the morning’s events. She had hardly been out of the house the past week since the investigation into her husband’s disappearance had begun to peter out and she had felt alone and afraid. She reaches home and walks inside. She grabs a map from a drawer beneath the kitchen bench and consults the coordinates. She slides her finger across the map until she locates the site, on the Coxs River near the Great Dividing Range, approximately an hour’s drive and a short walk from her home in Blackheath. She grabs her car keys and jumps in the car right away, determined to get to reach the Coxs River as soon as possible. She drives along a landscape of meadows and hills to reach the enclave where the coordinates point to on the map. She admires the landscape, feeling free and untethered for the first time in a while. She’s on a mission.

Georgia parks her car next to the river and steps out of the driver’s seat with the map. A cacophony of cicadas call, gathered by the river, disorienting her. They are excruciatingly loud, and she is sure their bodies are vibrating the earth beneath her feet, making it hard to stand. She enters an opening in the shrubs surrounding the river and makes her way towards what she assumes is the point on the map. She feels like a mad woman, gone rogue. The cicadas’ call increases in volume, a deafening sound. Through the smog of flies and heat, Georgia spies an object in the distance. She approaches, a little timid now. She is so alone in this peaceful yet eerie paradise. The river flows with a strong current and she thinks it could carry her for hours if she just jumped in and let it. Would it wash away everything she had suffered?

She stands in front of the object. A baby cradle, handmade. It sparkles in the sun, adorned in a large, white, inviting bow. She screams, terrified by what she has found, because as innocent as it seems, it wants to taunt her, after everything that’s happened. She catches her breath, and sits down by the riverbank, staring at it, cautious, as if it may bite. She moves closer towards it and sees a small note inside. She shudders as she picks it up. She reads: “Don’t talk to the police. I had to run. They’re coming after me, Georg. I’m sorry.” Georgia backs away from the cradle slowly and makes a face that suggests contempt and longing for her husband. What has happened to him? Where is he? And who are ‘they’?

fiction

Miranda Aitken

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Miranda Aitken
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